After four days in Nazca, it was time to face my fears about altitude and return to Cusco. I hopped on the overnight bus at about 9pm and slept most of the way there. When I woke up, I got talking to the gentleman sitting next to me. He’s a professor of medicine and was returning to Cusco from Lima for the new semester. He spoke very well in English but felt more at ease when we switched to Spanish. He ranted to me about the state of public health in Peru and his envy of Cuba’s public health system. It was a really nice chat; it felt like a Humans of New York moment, but I didn’t want to ask him for a photo.
Nadie cree en el bien común acá! Todo el mundo sólo quiere ganar plata. Cúba tiene un sistema de salud pública muy bueno. Y los medicos allá eligen su profesión porque quieren ayudar a la gente!
Needless to say, I was pretty happy I was to be back in Cusco, well-rested, armed with altitude medication, and seeing a familiar face in Helen, a friend from back home whose trip to Peru happened to overlap with mine. Helen got behind the viewfinder and we pounced on the moment when the flags were unfurled and blowing in the wind!
“The name Pachamama is translated into English as Mother Earth since ‘pacha’ is a word in both Quechua and Aymara that means earth, cosmos, universe, time, space, etc. in English and ‘mama’ means mother.
“In the Andean culture the Pachamama is the goddess who protects all material goods and at the same time rules over the spiritual universe. Therefore, she symbolizes the human environment in every aspect, so those who believe in her will maintain a balanced, reciprocal relationship with her.” – Handicraft Bolivia. I first learned about Pachamama at the Sydney Latin American Film Festival Organisation’s Pachamama Festival.
On my third day back in Cusco, I was finally feeling ready to venture out and do something more strenuous. Sacsayhuaman is the impressive ruins of the Inca fortress built up the hill from Cusco. The people of Cusco are very proud of the ancient building methods of the Inca/Quechua people, who didn’t use any mortar to keep their giant boulder walls intact.
After getting up to Sacsayhuaman, my new English mate Lee and I spotted the big Jesus statue we had seen from down in the city centre and wandered over to get a better look. Unexpectedly, this led us to a huge crowd of people congregating excitedly. It turns out that August 1 – the day we happened to go up there – is the date of the Andean New Year! To honour Pachamama, they dig up the earth and offer up a pago (payment) of bread, fruit and beer. This is to give thanks for the season passed and hope for a bountiful harvest in the year ahead (August is the middle of the dry season). They say it’s a good sign if the soil comes up nicely.
And, yeah, I accidentally got my hat in the way of the lens.
I really love this photo. In the charming and historic stadium, Estadio Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, there are no assigned seats (only terraces), stray dogs wander around the stands, young boys of nine or ten sell lollipops and anticuchos, and the commentators sit outside! We were sitting right in front of them and were treated to the famous way Spanish-speaking football commentators call “goooooooool”.
We woke up at 2:45am to get picked up at 3am. Today, Vinicunca (Rainbow Mountain) was in our sights. We were hiking a total of 20km to reach a peak altitude of 5020m. Lee, Krish (also from England) and I took it pretty seriously. We were all stocked up on water, snacks and sun block, and Krish never gave up despite struggling pretty seriously with the altitude. If you can’t tell, it felt pretty bloody good at the top!
“Venga señoritas! Tengo sandía, papaya, piña, naranja, zanahoria, uva, palta…”
I love this photo, too. She’s smiling because she’s a little embarrassed. Just minutes before, she was animatedly attempting to woo my two German friends to choose her juice over her competitors. It’s cute that the humour of the situation wasn’t lost on her.